WKU grad aims to close gap between Americas

Allyson Beasecker

Holger Velastegui is a businessman. He is an Ecuadorian politician. He is a WKU alumnus. Now, he is a bridge between the students of Latin America and Western Kentucky University.

Velastegui believes he has a vision that will further WKU’s philosophy of international reach. He is working with WKU and officials in South America to bring high school students from South America to the classrooms of WKU.

The businessman in Velastegui recognized a need that he could help fill.

Velastegui said there is no program in existence that directs South American high school students into American universities.

“I see a big market for Western,” we said. “A good way of supporting your ideas and your goals is through education. Bring more people here, educate them and send them back.”

He speaks from experience.

Born and raised in Santo Domingo, Ecuador. In 1981, he arrived in Bowling Green as a high school exchange student. He became a Hilltopper in 1983 after WKU offered him in-state tuition.

Velastegui fully immersed himself into the student life at WKU.

The business administration major served on the Student Government Association and was the International Student Club president.

His involvement at WKU was a foundation off of which he would build an influential political career. WKU’s impact would lead him back to the Hill sooner than he thought.

“Getting to work with young leaders was very good for me,” Velastegui said. “The leadership skills I learned really helped.”

Economics professors William Davis, taught Velastegui when he was a student at WKU. For Davis, Velastegui is one of his success stories, calling him a “standout student.”

In 1988, Velastegui graduated from WKU and returned to Santo Domingo where he worked as a radio broadcaster for his family’s radio company. Through the show his popularity grew and he developed a deep connection within his community, which opened a door to the world of politics.

In 1996, he became a senator. He served on the senate until 1998 and then served as city commissioner from 2000 to 2005. During Velastegui’s political career, he assisted in making the county of Santo Domingo a state, offered aid to the poor and founded two small catholic universities.

Velastegui said he decided to end his political career due to corruption he began to see within the Ecuadorian government. The connections he made while working for the government will prove to be an invaluable resource in the attempts to bring over Latin American students.

“Now is a good time to help Western,” Velastegui said. “I owe Western a lot.”

President Gary Ransdell said alumni recruiting is not uncommon, but appreciates Velastegui’s efforts.

“There’s a lot more to recruiting students than what meets the eye,” Ransdell said. “But it’s an idea worth pursuing.”

The first step in connecting South American students to WKU is showing the students the benefits of studying at WKU and developing relationships with elite high schools in South America.

“The goal is to have the high schools send a group of students every year,” Velastegui said. “Hopefully in a couple years we can reach in 100 students and in five years 1000 students.”

Davis said Velastegui is the perfect person for the job. His business experience and connections throughout South America make him the perfect liaison.

“He [Velastegui] is ideal for this,” Davis said.